Tara Conklin hits the ball out of the park with this historical fiction. The House Girl comes at just the right time — African-American Appreciation Month — and it highlights the cruelties of slavery, as well as celebrates the attempts of right-minded folks who contributed to the efforts of the Underground Railroad.
Set in the 1850s, this tale is two in one. The chapters alternate between present day and past. Lina is a modern-day attorney who is seeking to make her way up to partner at a prestigious law firm. She is presented with a slavery reparations case, and quickly uncovers a mystery revolving around the artwork of a Southern legend, a plantation owner’s wife named Miss Lu. It seems as if some believe that the artwork is not hers at all, but instead that of her slave, her “house girl,” Josephine.
The arts community is all up in arms over this speculation. Many are fearful that their prized Miss Lu paintings will lose their value, while others are excited about the possibility that Josephine’s authorship may make the drawings and paintings much more coveted.
Among the process of working on this heated (and highly secretive) case, Lina has to deal with past ghosts of her own, the mysterious details surrounding the death of her mother years before. Her father, Oscar, an artist himself, is being strangely cryptic about the ordeal, a story she’s been told since childhood but is slowly starting to question.
The other point of view we are privy to is Josephine’s, as she seeks to be a helpmate to her master’s wife, who is living with numbered days due to a terrible illness. She feels torn between caring for her and making plans to run away. Her long for escape is muddled by feelings of fear, guilt, and uncertainty. Will she finally be able to break free?
I couldn’t put this book down once I started it. It is a wonderful story that drew me in, the history-lover (and research enthusiast) that I am. Anyone who digs ancestral research and putting pieces together in historical puzzles will adore this book.
Disclosure: I received the above product at no charge from HarperCollins in exchange for our honest review. I received no product or monetary compensation for this honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.